This past week found me out and about nearly every day catching up on happenings from the previous week and finding a few new things on a couple of short out of town trips. Returning to the Rio Grande Nature Center on Monday, it was good to spot the Killdeer sitting on the nest. Last week the eggs were left exposed while she ran off trying to distract me from spotting it.
Although people have been seeing a good variety of migrating birds on the weekend walks there lately, I must’ve been a little late that morning and didn’t see all that many species. The Black-chinned Hummingbird was still on its nest, a Downy Woodpecker was busy feeding its young in a nest cavity, and a Spotted Towhee posed nicely for me in a nearby tree singing its distinctive song.
On Tuesday I made the long walk to Domingo Baca Canyon, where I’d seen a number of butterflies around this time last year. With the worsening drought we’re in, it was good to see that there was still a bit of water flowing for a short distance in the canyon and even a butterfly-attracting Fendlerbush in bloom, but I’d only see a total of 3 butterflies that morning, a Rocky Mountain Duskywing and Bronze Roadside-Skipper on that bush and a Two-tailed Swallowtail resting on a cottonwood. News to me was finding a Black-chinned Hummingbird nesting in the same place one nested last year. Who knew that hummingbirds sometimes re-use their old nests?
With the drought, there are very few things blooming this year in contrast to all the wildflowers we had last year, but at least a few cactus must’ve gotten enough moisture to flower briefly. I can’t guess what species this might be other than maybe some kind of pincushion or mammilaria cactus.
On the way in to Domingo Baca and later when I looped back on the mountain bike trail to Pino Canyon, there were at least three Scott’s Orioles perched on top of juniper trees.
Rarely can I get close enough to one for a picture, but it was great seeing them again after missing the one a few people spotted last week in Embudito Canyon.
Wednesday, I met my friend Steve in Embudito to try to find the Scott’s Oriole for him. We did hear it singing, but just like last week were unable to spot it. We deemed the trip a success, however, on seeing a pair of Canyon Wrens on the rocky canyon walls – not a regularly seen bird in these parts.
The next day the Audubon Thursday Birders got the chance to visit Carlito Springs, a marvelous riparian area in Tijeras Canyon owned by Bernalillo County Open Space, but closed to the general public while they decide how best to manage it. On my list of places to visit since I first heard about it, it was great to finally get a chance to go there. The site has a good spring running fresh water to several pools and many different plant and tree species on the 179 acre property, which attract a good number of birds. Hopefully, the County will come through on its plans to provide general access later this year.
Friday, Rebecca and I went in search of butterflies at Quarai National Monument and to Pine Shadow Spring in the nearby Manzano Mountains. Quarai had some good butterflies last year, but the drought is affecting things there as well and without water, there are few flowers or butterflies to be seen. According to the ranger the Great Horned Owl successfully nested in the mission ruins there again this year (site of last year’s “Winky” and “Blinky”), but we didn’t spot them tucked back in the openings high up the wall.
At a small creek just north of Pine Shadow Spring where we’d never stopped before, we finally got a few new butterflies for the year. In addition to a large number of Silver-spotted Skippers,
we saw our first Arizona Sister for the year and got excellent looks at what we think is an Oslar’s Roadside-Skipper.
I’ve submitted the pictures to the Butterflies and Moths of North America website for verification and if it’s verified, that will be our sixth “lifer” so far this year – yay!
New for the year, too, was a Western Tiger Swallowtail in the damp area at Pine Shadow Spring. Quite similar to the Two-tailed Swallowtail that we’ve been seeing regularly the past month, including this one from Domingo Baca on Tuesday,
the Western Tiger Swallowtail has slightly wider dark bars, only a single tail on each hindwing, and is usually seen a little higher in elevation.
Since this spot is one of the few with dependable water these days, a few birds dropped by for a drink now and then, including this Pine Siskin, a species that’s usually heard high in the tall pine trees.
Hoping to track down a few new butterflies that are only out at certain times and in specific habitats, we headed east for the weekend to Conchas and Ute Lakes and all the way to Caprock Park near San Jon and the Texas border. Caprock Park seems to have been pretty much abandoned as a park these days with a large number of wind turbines catching what was a pretty steady breeze while we were there. Ute Lake was quite busy with Memorial Day traffic, but certainly more scenic than I’d expected. Although the campgrounds were fairly busy at the much larger Conchas Lake, it was not nearly as crowded possibly because the boat ramps were closed due to low water levels. We did see more wildflowers in the area due to a few brief showers recently (although the waitress in Tucumcari did say that ‘when it rains here, it rains mostly dirt!’), but saw very few butterflies in any of the places we visited. Cactus were blooming well, however,
and we spotted a just-fledged House Finch (I assume) near its nest in a Tucumcari park.
A real highlight of the trip for me, however, was spotting an Eastern Collared Lizard basking in the sun at Ute Lake.
We’ve seen these guys a few other times in the last couple of years, but this is the first that had that bright yellow head.